From the time we are born, we get measured against everyone else. “Your daughter, at two weeks old, is in the 89th percentile for weight. She’s doing great!” “Your son is in the 17th percentile. You’ll want to make sure he’s getting enough calories…”
And so it goes. After that, we never escape it. How to we measure up? How do we compare to our peers? Are we at the top of our class? The middle? The bottom? Unfortunately, very quickly, these ratings begin to work as measuring sticks for our value.
Culture exalts being counted amongst the top percentiles as “greatness.” Most of us buy into this thinking. Most of us have come to equate the word “exceptional” with the word “great.” Oh, the glory of being in the ninety-ninth percentile! That one with exceptional intelligence, exceptional athletic prowess, exceptionally glamorous looks… the one exceptionally quick to develop as a wealthy businessman, exceptionally talented, exceptionally charismatic… anything exceptional, these are the great people of our society.
Everyone else is… meh. As a result, tragically, most people walk around daily life feeling… meh.
My dear one, you have got to know, this is exceedingly far from Jesus’ perspective. And you know what? Jesus’ perspective defines reality. Everything else is a false perception of life.
Jesus fashioned everyone in His own image. Do you really think He would have meant for ninety-something percent of the population to feel constantly miserable for not attaining “greatness?” No. This is the opposite of what He intends. The marvelous news is, He makes greatness accessible to each of us, in any and every station of life.
He summed it up with these two simple statements:
- “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4, NIV). Assuming a posture of unsophisticated, childlike trust in Daddy. Leaning on Him in vulnerable, unending, utter dependence. This is greatness.
- “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matt. 23:11, NIV). Preferring those around you above yourself. Dying to your preferences that they might live. Pouring yourself out to serve them, exactly where it is least convenient and most uncomfortable. Taking the lower place to lift them up. This is greatness.
You know what else? The word “exceptional” actually does fit in here. Exceptional dependency. Exceptional self-forgetfulness. Exceptional kind, gentle service. Exceptional sacrificial love. In Jesus’ mind and heart, these qualities are the true measuring sticks of an earth-shatteringly successful earthly trajectory.
He means for most of us to be great within the context of a tiny microcosm. In our own miniscule corners of the universe – as we surrender ourselves to Him day after day, cheerfully doing the dishes, selflessly loving our neighbors, and willingly laying our lives down – momentous greatness is happening. The angels hold their breath. The Father’s heart swells. And all of heaven bends down to watch.
Is Jesus’ brand of greatness harder, or easier to achieve, than the world’s?